Hoosier pro day participants hope to shine for NFL scouts

As Jamar Johnson prepares for the next stage of his football career, the junior safety took an opportunity Monday to reflect on his three years at Indiana.

Of all his accomplishments, Johnson certainly enjoyed seeing his team go from middling Big Ten program to top-10 team nationally.

“I’m most proud of being ranked this year, that was one of my biggest goals,” Johnson said. “Always wanted to be ranked, wanted to have that number by my team’s name and be a big part of that.”

Now his attention turns to different numbers. Like the 40-yard dash and three-cone times that will soon be associated with his name as an NFL Draft prospect.

Those will come Friday as the Hoosiers’ draft-eligible prospects participate in a long-awaited pro day. It’s a special occasion, the capper to a college career that’s hopefully a bridge to a professional opportunity. This year, it’s the only opportunity prospects will have to showcase their skills for NFL teams.

Last year, the NFL’s scouting combine in Indianapolis was able to kick off in February before COVID-19 surged in the U.S. But college pro days across the country, including one at IU, were called off. It’s the opposite this year, as the NFL isn’t holding a mass gathering of prospects in Indy, relying on results from individual pro days on college campuses.

Regardless, 323 prospects still received combine “invites,” a mostly ceremonial nod identifying them as top prospects in the class. Johnson was one of the invitees, along with Hoosier receiver Whop Philyor and running back Stevie Scott.

“Even though we didn’t have a combine, I teared up a little bit, because I was so happy I got it,” Philyor said. “It showed people have been watching me, Stevie, Jamar. They’ve been watching us.”

What they saw was a program eclipsing its usual standard, winning games over the likes of Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. While the season ended with an Outback Bowl loss to Ole Miss, many Hoosiers made enough plays to merit consideration by NFL teams.

Philyor, a senior, could have returned to IU because the NCAA extended eligibility for all fall athletes, but the 5-foot-11, 180-pound slot receiver from Tampa, Fla., decided it was time to pursue the next level. He finished his career as just the 10th Hoosier to eclipse 2,000 receiving yards (2,067).

The third-team All-Big Ten selection accomplished what he set out to do at IU.

“I’m most proud we’re a football school now, man,” Philyor said. “We’re not just a basketball school. I’m happy we got to change the culture at Indiana. We’re all leaving the school in a winning situation and we not the bottom feeders of the Big Ten no more. We some top togs. That’s what I’m most proud about.”

Friday’s pro day allows these outgoing Hoosiers to secure their standing on NFL draft boards. That means running faster and jumping higher than other prospects around the country.

On tape, IU’s three combine invitees have already displayed characteristics that could make them attractive to NFL teams.

Johnson, for instance, has played both “husky” and deep safety in IU’s 4-2-5 scheme, so he’s covered man-to-man at the line of scrimmage and patrolled wider spaces on the backend. Last season was his first foray at the latter position, posting a team-high four interceptions and earning a first-team All-Big Ten nod.

Johnson was recently ranked by Pro Football Focus as the No. 41 overall prospect in the upcoming draft, including the No. 2 safety in the pool. If he can run sub-4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash, proving his ability to run sideline to sideline, Johnson could make himself a lot of money.

In that effort, the 6-1, 197-pounder spent the last several weeks in Arizona at the EXOS combine training program. IU strength coach Aaron Wellman, formerly of the New York Giants, still works with NFL receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and Wellman took a moment to meet with Johnson, as well, to help fine-tune his running technique.

“I believe my 40 is going to surprise people,” Johnson said. “I’m definitely going to be running lower than (4.6).”

Speed is just one attribute, but it’s an important multiplier.

Philyor has positives in his favor, including toughness. He said NFL scouts have told him as much, having watched his film and noting how hard he is to bring down in space. But if Philyor can post a sub-4.5 in the 40-yard dash, that proves his potential to take the top off defenses.

Most draft sites currently project Philyor as a late Day 3 pick, which means the fourth round or later.

“I’m most looking forward to my 40-yard dash because most people expect me to run a 4.5. I’m going to change that,” Philyor said. “I’m going to change a lot of minds when I run my 40.”

Scott, the 6-2, 231-pound running back, may have even more riding on his 40-time. There has never been a doubt in Scott’s ability to find the end zone, finishing his IU career with 30 rushing touchdowns, tied for fourth in program history.

He has the size to feature as a short-yardage back. He has the willingness to pass protect, which is a big thing for NFL scouts. But the biggest criticism of Scott’s game, again, is a lack of a true second gear.

Scott has been training in Boca Raton., Fla., for the last several weeks, honing his speed and mobility. That work will be tested Friday.

“There’s a lot of doubt in my speed, and my breakaway speed,” Scott said. “I always knew I had it, but it’s something I’ve been working on, mainly, through this process, and I’m excited to show it.”

It’s just one more thing to prove.

But regardless of the outcome, IU’s pro day participants know what they’ve already accomplished at the collegiate level.

They put some impressive numbers by the Hoosiers’ name.

“I’m definitely proud of getting IU back on the map,” Scott said. “We had a lot of doubters coming into my freshman year, and I feel like, through my sophomore and junior year, there was a spark between the program and the culture. I’m just very appreciative of being a part of that culture and that change. Hopefully, it can continue going on for many years from now.”

2 comments

  1. I wish the men well today. I think Johnson and Johnson are going to open some eyes in the NFL. Jamar is a given but Jerome has a body of work and the speed to do well in the NFL. It will be interesting to see the draft and find out how many and where Hoosiers get picked. Will teams see Hoosier players as different that previous years or will they see them as better players drafting them higher spots.

  2. Every IU FB player that gets drafted or makes an NFL roster as a free agent fortifies IU’s reputation and enhances TA’s ability to recruit. So I hope all the guys get picked. One thing that may help is that NFL teams won’t have to worry about this group of IU players having any behavioral or “character” issues.

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